Artist Michael Rakowitz designed a smart urban shelter that uses excess heat from building HVAC systems to keep the homeless warm. Inspired by Bedouin tents that respond to different kinds of desert winds, The ‘paraSITE’ shelters are simple, effective and cost under $5. Over the course of 17 years, Rakowitz has built at least 60 shelters in various cities he’s lived in and plans to develop this project further.
Urban winters are the toughest for the homeless as sub-zero temperatures can mean death for those sleeping on the streets. While still a student at MIT, Michael Rakowitz thought of using warm air from buildings’ HVAC systems to inflate and warm a temporary urban shelter for the homeless. He designed and built his first ‘paraSITE’ structure for a man named Bill Stone in Cambridge, Massachusetts and since then has perfected the design and substituted the black garbage bags he initially used with clear, sometimes Ziploc bags.
The small, collapsible, double-membrane shelter can be customized to fit different spatial requirements. On one occasion, Rakowitz designed an 18 inch high sleeping bag for a homeless man in New York that complies with city law that regulates the height of street structures. The owner of the sleeping bag got a ticket, but the case was dismissed.